My satisfaction with community and critical-thinking lessons took a severe beating on Thursday. The week before, some of my male students were passing notes about a desire to exclude an unsportsmanlike student from their play-group. The other student became aware of this during lunch and was sobbing, still, when I went to start our after-lunch activity. I cancelled the activity and sat us down in our circle. I convinced the students to talk about the problems and come to a conclusion, issuing apologies and agreements to give the problem student one more chance to play with them. It was great, the students who were not involved in the event were still participating in the discussion, offering perspectives, opinions and compromises. Hours later, I already saw the boys playing together again. Jazzed, I daily encouraged my kids to take on similar problem-solving exercises in our morning meeting.
At first, it went well. K----, F---- and M---- sorted out their talking and sharing problems. C----- and T----- resolved a lingering teasing issue. Then, N--- got a hold of an exceedingly profane note from J---. The note included a reference to B----, to whom N--- showed the note and who then wanted to bring it up in the class’ morning meeting. J---, one of the most successful students in the class, was distraught. Amid tears, she accepted fault for, but then denied writing, the note. She lashed out at B---, who she alleged had started a rumor that J--- liked K---. B--- said it wasn’t her but C---, a good friend of J---. C--- accepted blame for the rumor and said it was an expression of her frustration with J---‘s perennial bossy attitude and recent bout of “being mean.” Others nodded and confirmed the complaints. Thus betrayed, J---- just cried even more.
I felt like a kid who had been playing with matches and was now facing a house engulfed with flame. J--- was far too hysterical to apologize or rationally discuss the issues. The class was palpably discontent with the lack of resolution. I had no clue how to bring our meeting to a close, how to refocus on instruction, or even how to get J--- to stop crying. I tried to suppress the flames by recognizing J---‘s willingness to accept her friends criticism, how hard it was for her. I couldn’t congratulate the class on a good class meeting because the emotions were too raw. I called for some “good things” to say about J---. Few hands went up. Worst of all, I was leaving the classroom to go on an observation a few minutes later.
Once I had the class back at their seats, free-writing on our morning, I took J--- outside. She is one of my favorites and constant allies in my drives to develop a good connection with my female students. She again took credit for the note and confessed that she had been worried about getting in serious trouble for her remarks and bringing more problems to her already troubled family. She said there was a lot she had going on at home that her mother wouldn’t let her tell anyone about. She said it made her so angry that she was being bossy and she was being mean, that she knew she was being a bad friend but she couldn’t control herself. I felt like she was waving a red flag for help, but I had no idea what to say, I had a class of 32 other students waiting inside the door, I had to leave in 10 minutes, and I deeply suspected she didn’t want to talk to her young male teacher about any of this. So, I sent J--- to visit with the kindly school librarian. When I came back, I saw her frolicking on the playground at recess.
Somewhere in the midst of that, it suddenly dawned on me that my prior success with this classroom community stuff was more than a little bit luck. Now I know there’s a whole art to it and I haven’t even read the books.
Carnival of Homeschooling
2 hours ago